As the threat of COVID-19 unfolded around the world, many office facilities were compelled to close their doors. Employees were forced to completely change their routines with very little notice and become accustomed to working from home. Nevertheless, a 2019 survey by Airtasker showed increased levels of productivity in remote workers compared with their office-based counterparts. This is a finding that many companies are now discovering first-hand, and one that is encouraging leaders to consider remote working as a more permanent tool in their ‘new normal’ strategy.
However, for many businesses, this new work dynamic poses a challenge in maintaining healthy communication between colleagues. Here are the top ways remote working can bring colleagues together instead of pushing them apart.
The webcam revolution
In a usual business meeting environment, a number of people sit around a large table wearing smart attire. And according to recent statistics, 95% of professionals consider face to face communication vital for long term business.
In virtual meetings, every colleague provides a window into their personal lives – a webcam. Many people own up to having a “work persona”—but as colleagues and line managers get a glimpse into each other’s homes, they also get more of an idea about who they are when they leave the office.
This then brings opportunities to have more personal social interactions. For instance, if a colleague is interrupted by their dog barking, their child crying, or even if they just have a guitar mounted on the wall behind them, others in the call may feel they know them on a more personal level and may even forge closer connections as a result.
As colleagues who are working remotely will see their line manager less, it’s important to ensure they catch up more regularly. It is very easy for remote workers to start to feel alienated from the rest of the team, especially since they miss out on the more casual work interactions. Therefore, regular one-to-one virtual meetings to check in with remote workers ensure they are on track with their work brings the team together.
Evidence shows employees who have regular one-to-one meetings with their managers are 3 times more likely to be engaged. In addition, colleagues may be more inclined to share challenges they are experiencing during a one-to-one virtual meeting. In an office setting, meetings are usually in larger groups, where individuals may not feel as comfortable voicing their concerns. With more transparency throughout the team, problems are addressed more efficiently.
When a colleague works from the office, they are surrounded by visual materials reminding them of company visions and values. For remote workers, there are fewer opportunities to communicate the culture of the business. Company values are at the core of every business and it is important to ensure they are at the forefront of everyone’s mind, regardless of their location.
Working from home means no daily commute, and therefore more time to engage with company updates. Not being based in the office also means staff may have an increased interest in the latest company news, since they will be kept out of the loop of office chatter. Internal newsletters, email updates, and company intranet articles are the ideal ways to keep remote workers informed.
What is especially hard to replicate with a remote team is the casual, friendly atmosphere of an office. And according to CoSo Cloud, more than half of remote employees say they feel disconnected from in-office employees. Some have taken to recreating this environment in the virtual world, providing a setting for informal interactions that tend to happen naturally in a physical work environment.
Virtual tea and coffee breaks offer a regular opportunity for colleagues to drop in and catch up, while drinks, hangouts, and quizzes are popular Friday afternoon lockdown features. Digital events like these are an important part of cultivating that all-important sense of a working community.
Work life balance
In the office, everyone follows the same structure of a set time for work and a certain time to go home. For those that work at home, things aren’t always so linear. A key issue facing new remote workers is a lack of structure of the day—especially when there are more opportunities for interruptions.
Flexibility is key to succeeding with a remote workforce, especially if they have dependents. And according to data published on merchantsavvy.co.uk, the wellbeing of employees is typically improved when there is a flexible workplace policy in place. Ensure your flexible working policy is readily available to everyone and encourage open discussions about the best way to work.
Open feedback channels
If remote working is a fairly new concept in your organisation, be sure to get feedback from those employees that work from home. A short employee pulse survey, for example, offers employees the chance to say what could be improved in their home-working set-up.
While managing a remote team is similar to managing a team in the office, it is much harder to make people feel valued when they are at home. Even if remote working has been part of your company strategy for a while, it is always a good idea to get feedback from your staff to determine if productivity could be improved.
Whether your company is fully remote or just some colleagues work from home, nothing beats facetime with your team. No amount of virtual calls or digital events will replace casual conversation around the watercooler or drinks after work. Nothing beats getting together in the real world. But virtual meetings are the next best thing to face-to-face connections. Always keep in mind that there should be a healthy balance between the virtual events and the real-life meetups.
The key takeaway is that for any employee—office-based or remote—providing guidance, setting goals, and communicating well are always helpful. But for home-based workers, these aspects of work life are especially important. There are more ways to embrace flexible working than ever before, but it is crucial to utilize them in the right way. With a combination of virtual and physical environments, all employees, despite their location, will be engaged and motivated.